Tag Archives: Mexican Filmmakers

Antonio Vigna talks adopting mindset of a serial killer

The first time that Antonio Vigna stepped onto a stage, he realized that he has a passion to entertain flowing through his veins. As he began to take on more prominent roles, he learned that there wasn’t a single part of acting that he didn’t enjoy. To this day, he thrives on the opportunity to step into the shoes of a new, different character every time he shoots a film or television show. He feels empathy for the unique situations that his characters encounter and he delves so deeply into his roles that he often catches himself feeling as though he is actually living through their eyes. The true joy of his job, however, comes from inspiring his audiences to overcome the hardships in their lives that are similar to those of the characters he portrays. For Vigna, knowing that he may be the source of hope in even a single viewer’s life is what motivates him to continue acting.

Vigna’s relentless desire to act has earned him a variety of diverse roles in several films and television series. During his work as an actor, however, he developed a profound appreciation for all of the intricate roles involved in creating a film and found himself intrigued to learn more about each one. Eventually, he realized that he enjoyed producing films just as much as he enjoyed acting in them, and his audiences are all the more fortunate for it. His talents as a producer are unparalleled and his works have landed him in several film festivals around the world. In fact, two films that he is particularly fond of, Dia de Muertos and In a Heartbeat were featured at the prestigious Cannes Short Film Corner in 2017. Despite his esteemed career as a producer, Vigna is still an actor and balances the two professions seamlessly.

In 2015, Vigna wrote the script for Perfection which depicts the unique, thrilling tale of a young artist struggling to find the missing piece for his masterpiece. It isn’t until the artist has an accident and discovers the solution to his masterpiece is human blood, which leads him on a terrifying murder spree. When Vigna pitched the script to his director, they knew that they were going to need a high calibre actor to take on the part of the artist. Fortunately, they didn’t have to look any further than Vigna, who had the exact skill set and on-screen presence that the lead role demanded. For the highly sought-after actor, this character presented a unique opportunity to flavour his career in a newfound way and he was eager to bring his own story to life.

“Actors often find themselves playing interesting, dynamic characters; however, one of the most complicated character types to play is a serial killer. I saw this as both an opportunity and a challenge to master the complexity of his mind. I knew that I had to find element of his personality that I could relate to in order to become him on screen in a believable way, which was extremely difficult but rewarding in the end,” said Vigna.

The film’s first assistant director, Markel Goikoetxea was just as pleased with Vigna’s performance as he was. Goikoetxea, being the first assistant director, witnessed the film’s progress from conception to the finished product and he knows better than most about the value that Vigna brings to his roles. His unprecedented talents were the reason that the film showed at prestigious film festivals such as the Hollywood Screenings Film Festival and Los Angeles Cinefest. He was even nominated for Best Actor at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival for his work on Perfection.

“From the very first time I saw the director and Antonio talking about the role, I knew that he was going to nail it. He is so detail-oriented and he gives his best no matter what role he is playing. His work is a reflection of the level of care and consideration he takes to develop his characters flawlessly. He is one of the most talented and hard-working actors that I have ever met,” told Goikoetxea.

The opportunity to play such an intricate, troubled character was a thrill for Vigna. The artist, much like Vigna, is passionate beyond comprehension about his work. As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that the artist’s determination to bring perfection to his masterpiece pushes him to lose touch with reality and to be blinded by his quest for greatness. Vigna was drawn to the complexity of the role and enjoyed searching for the parallels between his passion for acting and the artist’s passion for his masterpiece. Playing the artist was a journey in itself.

So, what’s in store for the highly esteemed actor? Vigna hopes to continue acting in and producing the highest quality films possible. When asked about the highlight of his career to date, the talented actor and producer humbly replied that his career is a highlight in itself and that the best is yet to come.

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Telling Stories to Spark Social Change: Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo

Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo was born in Toluca, a small town about an hour outside Mexico City. Her parents owned and managed a small business, which provided a living for the family but didn’t leave them time for much else, so Jiménez Ochomogo was often left to her own devices. She couldn’t have known it then, but looking back with the clarity of hindsight she can point to her time spent there as the beginning of her lifelong pursuit.

“My family owned a small grocery store in Mexico and my mother used to work there all day long, so I spent most of my time there. I couldn’t really spend a lot of time playing outside because it was on a busy street — and because of insecurity,” she said, reflecting on how it all began.

“One of the only things that I could do was watch movies. I always had a big imagination so I think that was my escape. [It was like] I was in all kinds of places and adventures in the movies. [That] has tremendously impacted my life.”

Though that small town was where she’d discovered her passion, the opportunities there for an aspiring filmmaker were extremely limited. So the ever-driven Jiménez Ochomogo chased her calling to Los Angeles. She flourished in the city, and it immediately became clear she had a rare gift. Her film “The Play” is a testament to that gift, beautifully blending a rich, original narrative with a bold message of perseverance in the face of inequality.

“‘The Play’… tells the story of Kimberly, a transgender actress, who receives her first role as a woman and is struggling to get into character,” Jiménez Ochomogo described. “It was a very difficult endeavor to find someone who could both play a transgender actress and deliver Shakespeare… if I didn’t choose the right person, the character could have become cartoonish.”

Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo
Director Alma Jiménez Ochomogo (left) and actors Ted Heyck & Aean McMullin (right) preparing to shoot “The Play.” Photo by Sara Marijuan

Written, directed and produced by Jiménez Ochomogo, “The Play” is a brilliant and powerful work that boldly tackles a topic too often swept under the rug. Aean McMullin delivers a masterful performance as Jennifer, deftly embodying the young actress.

“Kim… is cast as Viola/Cesario, the heroine and protagonist of the play ‘Twelfth Night’ by William Shakespeare,” she explained. “Aean McMullin, the actor, did a great job creating Kim. He had the right amount of vulnerability and strength that the character required to feel real. It also helped that he was classically trained so was amazing in delivering Shakespeare.”

In February, Jiménez Ochomogo unveiled her most ambitious project yet. Blurring the line between social media and cinema, L.A. Livfe was a series of three films by three directors which were ‘screened’ using the Facebook Live service. To ensure the project would get off on the right track, Jiménez Ochomogo’s film “The Pair” was chosen to be the first film to air.

“I directed the first short film called ‘The Pair,’ which was a love story about a Palestinian and an Israeli who meet in a Los Angeles bar,” she said. “We rehearsed for hours, but we only broadcast live once… so in many ways it was a make-it-or-break-it type of project.”

To shoot a film and air it live online for the world to see is an immense undertaking. It required countless hours of preparation, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher. But Jiménez Ochomogo had a story in her mind, and she knew exactly how to tell it.

“Our objective was to incorporate film language into live broadcasting, and the thread that joined all of the stories together was the city of Los Angeles,” she explained. “Each of us told a story of a moment in this city.”

At once enthralling and captivating, “The Pair” was a perfect example of what sets Jiménez Ochomogo apart. She is driven to find the unusual, the unorthodox and the unexpected, all of which she brings to life on the screen. Together with her visionary eye, her gift for storytelling puts Alma Jiménez Ochomogo miles ahead of her peers.

 

Speaking Visually: Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Andrea Mereles Gonzalez
Director Roberto Escamilla & Cinematographer Andrea Mereles Gonzalez

For the past five years cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has been using her unparalleled skill behind the lens to create captivating visual stories for a plethora of films and television series.

Originally from Mexico City, Mereles has made a name for herself both at home, as well as in the U.S., due to her powerful work as the cinematographer behind films such as Roberto Escamilla’s (The One Who Couldn’t Love, Passion and Power) 2016 drama Changes, Bo-You Niou’s (Manners of Dying) drama The 12th Stare starring Christine Kellogg-Darrin (Shameless, The Neighbours) and many more.

Mereles recently wrapped production on Camilo Collazos’ riveting 2017 drama Flesh & Blood starring multi-award winning actor Jorge A. Jimenez (Hermoso Silencio, Machete Kills), L.J. Batinas (Hawaii Five-O, Black Jesus) and Mariana Novak (Rose Colored, The Moleskin Diary).

Flesh & Blood revolves largely around the life of Rodrigo, played by Jimenez, an inmate who makes a deal to testify against a dangerous prisoner named Luis in exchange for early release via deportation.

While the deal includes an offer of witness protection for Rodrigo’s estranged daughter Laura, as she would most likely be targeted after Luis and his men on the outside find out what her father’s done, she’s far from a willing participant. Her reluctance puts Rodrigo in a tricky situation where he must try to convince a daughter he barely knows to give up her normal life in order to save them both before Luis finds out the extent of Rodrigo’s betrayal.

As the cinematographer of the film, Mereles’ brilliant use of lighting,  camera placement and methodical lens choices were tantamount to drawing audiences into the film and driving home the emotional aspects of Rodrigo’s story.

Flesh and Blood
Poster for the film “Flesh & Blood”

“We decided that we wanted the film to feel very personal and close to Rodrigo. This was his story and we were determined to capture this in the numerous visual aspects,” explains Mereles.

“Given that this was Rodrigo’s story I wanted the spectator to feel he was seeing the world through his eyes. This required a careful planning around camera placement, deliberated camera movement motivated by the main character’s internal and external motion and the use of anamorphic lenses.”

Through her lighting choices alone it’s easy to see that Mereles is an incredibly skilled cinematographer who knows exactly how to create a visual story that touches viewers on multiple levels and heightens the impact of the narrative unfolding on the screen. Using darker lighting to portray the gloomy nature of Rodrigo’s life in prison, and then using natural sunlight to brighten up the scenes and visually express the hope Rodrigo feels where his daughter Laura appears, Mereles juxtaposition of light and dark within the film emphasizes the dichotomy between Rodrigo’s current experience and the possibility of a brighter future.

“[Andrea’s] acute sensibilities with the film medium facilitate the understanding of the point of view and solidify the lives of the characters by enhancing the atmosphere around their universe or emphasizing their intentions,” explains Flesh & Blood director Camilo Collazos.

“She is a DP who is always prepared and is very accurate when reading the intentions of the voice guiding the storytelling. Her vision carries a charismatic, distinctive signature that allows the viewer to be in with the story and its world.”

The film, which premiered at the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles as part of the Mexican Filmmakers Showcase on July 20th, 2017, was shot primarily at the Sybil Brand Institute in Los Angeles, the same location used for other hits films such as Blow, 21 Grams, Legally Blonde and Malcolm X.

Andrea Gonzalez Mereles
Cinematographer Andrea Gonzalez Mereles

Mereles, whose name was already well-known back home in Mexico by the time she moved to the U.S., has made extraordinary strides in Hollywood over the last few years thanks to her inimitable skill behind the lens and her unique creative vision. While she knew early on in life that she would go on to work in the film industry, what sparked her career as a cinematographer was when she was on set for the first time working as a camera assistant.

“I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My intention was to become a director and a screenwriter, but the first time I was on a movie set I realized that what I wanted to tell a story visually,” explains Mereles.

“For me cinematography means telling stories as a whole but also with every image. I’m passionate about constructing stories through lighting, composition and movement and creating emotions within the spectator. Cinematography is a journey I started a long time ago. It is a journey to tell stories but it’s also a journey to find answers; trying to understand what it means to be human.”

After the firm realization that cinematography was the one field that would fulfill her creative passions and utilize her wide range of talents, Mereles went to work honing her skills in the artform at some of the world’s most prestigious schools. Shortly after completing Maine Media Workshops’ cinematography residency, Mereles went on to complete her master’s degree in cinematography at the American Film Institute, a highly competitive conservatory program that boasts an impressive alumni list including filmmakers such as three-time Oscar nominee John Cassavetes, four-time Golden Globe Award nominee David Lynch, Oscar nominee Darren Aronofsky and many more household names. In 2014 Mereles was selected as a Fullbright Scholar, an international merit-based scholarship program that gives a limited number of individuals the opportunity to study abroad.

While Mereles’ training definitely boosted her technical skill as a cinematographer, it’s her innate creative vision that has led her to become a sought after figure in her field internationally.

Another one of Mereles notable film works as a cinematographer in 2017 was multi-award winning director Christopher de las Alas’ (For Ofelia, Coffee Run) adventure film Great Again, which premiered during the LA Film Festival’s Project Involve Showcase. Starring Jonah Aimz (Awaken, Instacurity), Tasha Dixon (NCIS, Guiding Light) and Jeff Hoffmaster (True Blood, I’m With the Band), Great Again follows Frank (Jeff Hoffmaster), a homeless main on a mission for vengeance against a group of people who, immersed in their own selfish problems, refuse to buy him a bottle of mouthwash at a local convenience store. After being mocked and pushed to the brink, Frank decides to play a little prank on those who snuffed him by announcing that he won the lottery and is ready to share his winning with them; but when they find out he’s lying, they don’t take it lightly.

Through her use of specific angles, shot pacing and lighting, Mereles once again nailed the mark with her seasoned skill as the cinematographer of the film to draw viewers into the emotional aspects of the main character’s journey.

She explains, “My main goal was to visually represent the hecticness that Frank undergoes after lying about winning the lottery.  The director wanted to visually make a difference between the before and after of the winning of the lottery. To achieve this, the moment when Frank wins the lottery was shot using a zolly, which is a dolly in combination with a zoom. The before was characterized by a static camera and the after with hectic zooms ins, pans and handheld camera.”

As a cinematographer, Andrea Gonzalez Mereles has carved out a prominent position for herself internationally as an artist behind the lens whose creative capacity and keen vision have given way to both the commercial success and emotional impact of a wide range of films. Up next for Mereles is the thriller film Plain Fiction directed by Cyrus Duff, which is due out in 2018.

From Commercials to Film, Director Roberto Escamilla is a Visionary Artist!

Director Roberto Escamilla
Director Roberto Escamilla

Many directors find success directing commercials and/or music videos and choose to stay there throughout their careers; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as artists and brands need someone who can direct great commercials and music videos in order to keep their audience engaged. In the same breath though, there are many directors who have chosen to use their experience directing commercials and music videos as a stepping stone into directing narrative films, and Mexican director Roberto Escamilla is one of them.

Since beginning his career many years ago, Escamilla has become known for his work as the director behind a slew of popular commercials and music videos, as well as for his work as the director of the opening sequences for the hit telenovelas “Pasión y Poder” (aka “Passion and Power”) starring Jorge Salinas (“Que Bonito Amor”) and Fernando Colunga (“Soy Tu Dueña”), “Corona De Lágrimas” (aka “Crown of Tears”) starring Victoria Ruffo (“Triunfo del Amor”) and Alejandro Nones (“La Piloto”), and the romantic drama “La Que No Podía Amar” (aka “The One Who Couldn’t Love”) starring Susana González (“La Candidata”) and Anna Brenda Contreras (“Blue Demon”).

Over the years Escamilla’s reputation as a skilled director has spread far beyond Mexico as more and more international audiences have had the opportunity to see his work. In 2015 Escamilla was hired by Mexico-based production company Curiosity Media and award winning advertising agency Y & R to direct the “”Hot Cakes de Película” commercial for leading maple syrup brand Karo. The commercial is modern, funny and so visually enticing that it will make you want to smother your pancakes in Karo’s maple syrup the next chance you get! As the director of the commercial Escamilla definitely nailed the mark.

In 2012 Escamilla gained quite a bit of attention for his work as the director of the promos for the hit Mexican biographical series “El Encanto Del Águila” (aka “The Eagle’s Spell”) starring Carlos Corona from the multi-award winning film “Cantinflas” and Ariel Award nominee Emilio Echevarría from the Oscar Award nominated film “Y Tu Mamá También.” The stunning promotions Escamilla directed for “El Encanto Del Águila” earned the Gold Award of Excellence for Total Package Design at the 2012 PromaxBDA Awards, one of the leading awards events recognizing innovations within the marketing and design industry around the world.

While his work as a commercial and music video director has brought him extensive praise, what drives Escamilla to direct is his passion for delivering stories that touch the audience on an emotional level– those with an impact that lingers longer than what’s possible within the confines of a music video or commercial project, where the end goal is more concerned with sales than delivering a powerful story.

Escamilla admits, “I see cinema as an art medium. Yes people that work on it need to make a living from it, but we need to always remember that this is a profession that allows us to express ourselves and also to deliver a message.”

Even from Escamilla’s early work as a commercial director it’s easy to see his flare for narrative storytelling, so it will come as no surprise to those who know his work that he has progressively moved into directing more and more film projects.

Film poster for "Changes"
Film poster for Roberto Escamilla’s film “Changes”

“Changes,” Escamilla’s latest film, is a coming of age dramedy starring Joshua Furtado from the upcoming film “Charlie, Charlie” (starring Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore), Jade Lorna Sullivan (“Simple Lives,” “Camelot”), Chaz Kao (“Lucifer,” “Fall Into Me”) and Danny Parker-Lopes (“Minority Report,” “King Rikki”). Written and directed by Escamilla, “Changes” portraits one boy’s transition into “manhood” on the eve of his 16th birthday.

“I know how important is for a young man to prove himself in front of his friends…. That’s why I wanted to create a film that reflects this and at the same time I wanted to deliver a message about diversity and acceptance,” explains Escamilla about his inspiration for the film.

Under the heavy influence of peer pressure from his friends, the film’s main character Mitchell (played by Furtado) is taken to a brothel where he loses his virginity to a prostitute named Destiny (played by Sullivan), or at least that’s what his friends think. Filled with twists nobody would expect, “Changes” offers as a beautiful insight into the peer pressures of becoming a man, staying true to oneself and the importance of compassion.

Escamilla’s highly anticipated film “Changes” is slated to have its U.S. premiere at the UCLAxFilmFestival in Los Angeles on May 6 where it has been chosen as an Official Selection. The Mexican Consulate in LA will also be screening “Changes” on May 25th.

About the completed film, Escamilla says, “I feel it’s a big accomplish, it looks great, the casting is perfect and the message of love and acceptance it delivers touches me every time I see it…. and I’ve seen how it moves the audience which is the most important thing.”

While Escamilla has undoubtedly made a name for himself as a sought after director in Mexico, his ability to create powerful narrative film stories has clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world; and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

Director Michelle Castro Flexes His Cinematography Skills

Gloria Trevi
Director and cinematographer Michelle Castro shot by Alejandro Ibarra

 Audiences around the world will recognize Michelle Castro from the plethora of directorial accomplishments he’s made to date, which span the likes of music videos for renowned artists, award-winning narrative films and commercials.

Castro’s reputation as a highly skilled director became increasingly well-known throughout the Latin American entertainment industry after he directed the music video for Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi’s hit song ‘El Favor De La Soledad.” Trevi, who is often referred to as the “Mexican Madonna,” is also the subject of the biopic “Gloria,” which was released in February 2015.

Michelle Castro’s strength as a director has undoubtedly earned him international acclaim over the years, but his work as a cinematographer is another area of his genius that deserves notice.

As his film “When Negatives Collide,” which he both wrote and directed, was making waves as an international hit at festivals last year including being chosen as an Official Selection of the 2015 Cannes Court Metrage du Festival de Cannes, Castro was busy immersing himself as the cinematographer of several new film projects.

One such project, “The Destroyer,” a documentary film directed by Rupert Luis Sanchez (“Moktane”), follows MMA fighter Sean Loaffler as he prepares for a fight that could make or break the future of his career.

After spending 16 years as a strong competitor in the sport, Loaffler finally got his chance to make it big in 2012 when he was scheduled to fight in the UFC against Buddy Roberts; however, after suffering a massive ankle injury and being deemed unfit to fight, it was back to the drawing board for Loaffler. The film follows Loaffler after the accident up through his fight comeback, which if he wins, will give him another shot at the UFC.

Director Rupert Sanchez explains, “Michelle and I have been working together for years so when I started developing the idea for ‘The Destroyer’ he was a part of the process from day one. We both decided that being a documentary, in order for the film to stand out visually,  it needed to feel cinematic. He suggested to film at an extremely shallow depth of field and with a free flowing camera; it proved to be the most important decision for the over all look and feel of the film. His undeniable eye for the human moments and complete understanding of my intention for the film is felt in the cinematography.”

Castro’s creative vision for the shots within the film coupled with his expert versatility behind the camera was a huge asset to “The Destroyer,” as he was able to get up close and capture the action of the fight scenes and the deeply emotional struggle Loaffler experiences in this very real story.

“We shot this with DSLRs because of the mobility that they provide. Also when [Sean] was either training or fighting you are very close to the action and you really need to be able to move away if they are throwing punches at each other,” says Castro.

“The Destroyer,” which is currently in postproduction, will begin making its rounds on the festival circuit later this year.

For Michelle Castro the last few years have been incredibly busy, in fact, since 2013 he has lent his ingenious creative skill as a cinematographer to more than 15 films. From his most recent foray into the documentary film format with “The Destroyer” to dramatic narratives like Álvaro Ortega’s “Waltz” and Anish Dedhia’s “Chypre,” and the experimental mystery feature “Los Títeres de Belial,” Castro has revealed his remarkable ability to capture the visual story of each film, bringing each tale to life in a totally different way.

The film “Chypre,” which stars Svetla Georgieva (“Kantora Mitrani,” “A Punishment to Some, To Some a Gift”) and Christoff Lombard (“Waiting for the Miracle,” “Deguello”) takes audiences inside the cold relationship of one couple and examines how a young wife, who is sadly ignored by her husband, begins to desire a woman she encounters on the train. Castro sets the tone of the film with his visual approach in a way that, combined with the actor’s expressions and body language, allows the story to come across without relying heavily on dialogue.

The film, which had its world premier at the New York Indian Film Festival, earned the Best Film Award at the 2014 Los Angeles Thriller Film Festival, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the India International Film Festival of Tampa Bay, the Third Eye Asian Film Festival, the Rainier Independent Film Festival and many more.

Castro admits, “‘Chypre’ is one of the projects that I hold close to my heart… From train stations to mock up trains this was an exciting film to shoot. Anish Dedhia, the director, is a good friend and did an amazing job writing the script. Another reason that I’m grateful for this project is because I got to work with Svetla Georgieva, which marked our third collaboration. I consider her to be one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with.”

Prior to working as the cinematographer on “Chypre,” Castro directed actress Svetla Georgieva in his dramatic mystery film “Succubus,” which earned the Honorable Mention Award at the Los Angeles Movie Awards in 2014, as well as a nomination for Best Short Film at the Studio City Film Festival.

As for what’s on the horizon, Michelle Castro, who recently wrapped production as the cinematographer on the films “Charlie,” “Sleep,” “The Four Horseman,” “O1” and “The Delicious,” is slated to work as the cinematographer on three new film projects as well as direct an upcoming feature, with more information to be disclosed at a later date.